Business Q & A

A conversation with Christi Moore

After a theater career that took her from Emporia State University to Wichita theaters to a national touring company of "The Wizard of Oz" to off-Broadway shows in New York, Christi Moore became the owner of her own theater.

In 2005, she and her husband, Mark Leslie, purchased Cabaret Oldtown from founder Christine Tasheff.

It's more of a vocation than a career for Moore, and it's brought a lot of joy.

How many other employers laugh when their workers (stars Kyle Vespestad and Monte Wheeler) start a food fight in front of customers? It's one of Moore's memories of the wackiest things that have happened on the Cabaret stage.

The business has been struggling, though.

Moore the director feels confident in her productions — she's directed all but one of the theater's 24 shows since she took over.

Moore the businesswoman is less confident, though.

"I didn't sell season tickets this year because I couldn't promise a season."

Cabaret's current production of "The Great American Trailer Park Musical" runs through Sept. 25.

Have you always had a bit of the dramatic in you?

"I was always dramatic, my parents would tell you, but I was an athlete. I was a basketball player.... My main focus was sports."

Do you still play basketball and softball?

"I would love to, but I don't find the time too much. And I used to shoot around with my son, but he's outgrown me."

What attracted you to theater?

"I'd always been interested in it since I was a small child, and I had a relative who was involved in film.

"If acting and theater is what you want to do, it's just in you. I think it's something you're just born with — the longing to perform. The dramatic side. It's obviously appealing to be different people."

Early in your career, you were a member of the company at Crown Uptown. What was that like?

"I met some very good performers (and) learned a lot about professional theater. It was great. It was getting to do everything I wanted to do and actually get paid for it. It was pretty exciting at that age."

How does professional theater differ from amateur theater?

"Very little except for the paycheck."

How did you and your husband decide to buy Cabaret Oldtown?

"When I first brought him to Cabaret, he fell in love with the space, and, of course, I'd already been in love with it.

"That's when the spark hit us both that maybe it could become a reality."

Did former owner Christine Tasheff offer any advice?

"She just set a great example of... what kind of shows to do."

Did you go into the business thinking it could be a moneymaker?

"I don't really know that I had any intentions of money either way. I just know that it's a passion for me, and I believe and have always said Wichita has the greatest pool of talent per capita of any town I've ever been in.

"Are there days that I wonder how I got to where I am? Absolutely."

How is business?

"It has waned since the economy downturn, but I feel we continue to put out a great product."

How do you try to attract people to shows?

"I do a strong radio campaign, and we do a lot of giveaways. I do a lot of donations to try to get new interest in the theater.

"I've always billed Cabaret as a place that you don't have to drag your husband to. If you get him there once, he'll look forward to coming back.

"I think sometimes people think long, boring show when they think theater. That's not what we do."

Is it difficult to be an owner, director and performer?

"It varies. It's stressful, but performing is my first love, so if I never did that, I think I would... feel that there is something missing.

"Although running the place keeps me very busy and directing the shows keeps my creative side happy."

Is Cabaret in danger of closing?

"I won't lie.... It's been a struggle to keep people coming. I mean... it's hard.

"The variety of shows that we do is both appealing, but it's also something I can't always judge since the show changes every six to 12 weeks."

What's one thing most people don't know about you?

"If you tell me your birthday once, I'll never forget it. They call me the human calendar."

Well, then I'd just like to say mine is May 28.

"You think I won't remember."

That's just weird.

"People will say to me, 'I don't believe it. You won't remember mine.'

"I don't know if it's a blessing or a curse but... it's something I have."